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Thread: A Difficult (Insensitive) Question

  1. #1

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    A Difficult (Insensitive) Question

    I'm sure I'll get reamed for even posting this question, and I am not even sure of my answer to said question but, I wanted to hear the Throbbing Brain's take on this issue.

    On Saturday, a disturbed individual parked his car on the San Francisco Bay Bridge and proceded to clamber around the bridge structure, threatening to commit suicide. Needless to say, multiple police, coast guard, highway patrol, ambulances, fire department units became encamped on the scene. Traffic was snarled for over 13 hours, refusing to come down. The Bay Area basically shut down.

    Granted that this gentleman was somewhat disturbed.

    Granted that emergency personnel have a duty to try to help.

    But, granted that tens of thousands of dollars in direct costs were wasted on this episode-money that could be better spent elsewhere, perhaps???

    And, granted that there are only limited resources available to society and government.

    How long/how much effort/how much money should be spent on such a case? Should we eventually simply say: "Sir, help is available, but we cannot continue to tie up the bridge and police resources any longer, so we are reopening the bridge and reallocating the police?" Or, should we "indulge" (a term used by a libertarian-leaning radio host) a gentleman like this for "as long as it takes"?

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I'm sure the Trekkies here would not object if I said 'the needs of the many before the needs of the few'.....That said, I think on a more pragmatic level the issue boils down to the comparative value of preserving the existence of a single human life over the emotional and economic well-being of tens of thousands. I guess when it comes to it, I don't know ....
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Interesting question. Where do you draw the line? Reminds me of that lady in Seattle who was threatening to jump off some highway bridge. Traffic was backed up pretty bad and when people passed her they told her to jump because they were pissed. So she did jump.

    I saw a man climb the 6th Street bridge when I lived in Pittsburgh and they closed the bridge, although it was late at night so there wasn't any really problems. He got down eventually.

    Isn't the Golden Gate Bridge the number 1 place for people committing suicide via bridge jumping?
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    (advice offered when obviously not knowing any of the details of this particular event)

    From the compassionate angle: I would help to rescue this guy from himself with bare minimum of emergency personnel. If he is only a threat to himself, then the emergency workers should have been aggressive at taking him into custody in order to reduce the traffic stoppage as much as possible, and get everyone back to normal service.

    From the less-compassionate angle: Sniper the loon, from a hovering helicopter, with a dose of sleepy juice and then get him off the bridge as quick as possible.

    As for the cost of the emergency personnel, if it wasn't over-time pay, then the personnel was being paid anyway, so if one argues that 'it was a massive waste of taxpayers' money', I don't think so
    Last edited by mendelman; 05 Apr 2004 at 3:37 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  5. #5
    We had the same situation in San Diego last week on the Coronado bridge, which doesn't carry a tenth of the bay bridges traffic. I wish there was some swift humane way to take care of the situation but there isn't so, it's wait and see. If you think that it cost a lot to get the person off the bridge, think about the law suits if the police just said do what you want, we're letting traffic flow. Somehow, somebody would find a way to sue, that's where the real money drain is at.

  6. #6

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    An interesting point, Mendelman. Especially given a recent scandal in San Francisco-firemen at certain stations were spending their quieter periods getting drunk

    Sadly enough, the gentleman in question was basically standing right over a concrete abutment. Any move to involuntarily remove him would have meant "splat." (Which would have meant "lawsuit" from his surviving family )

    I found the talk show host somewhat convincing, actually. How far do we "indulge" people unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves? On the other hand, there was mental illness involved, so responsibility becomes a difficult term to define.

  7. #7
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Rumpy Tunanator
    Isn't the Golden Gate Bridge the number 1 place for people committing suicide via bridge jumping?
    Yeah, I remember hearing that someplace too. I imagine places like Paris probably see their fair share of jumpers from the Eiffel Tower; Niagra Falls is in my mind is another obvious choice for jumpers in that region.... lots of other famous landmarks to jump off in lots of cities. Who I really feel sorry for, though, are the folks that commit suicide in Plano, Kenosha, Dover, Peoria and Biloxi. It's one thing to jump off a famous landmark but jumping off, say, the tallest grain elevator in town just lacks..... well, panache.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally posted by The Irish One
    Somehow, somebody would find a way to sue, that's where the real money drain is at.
    Yep. A pretty big factor is the pool of legal sharks circling any episode like this. It's always somebody else's fault-and that somebody else can be easily sued for big bucks.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    Niagra Falls is in my mind is another obvious choice for jumpers in that region....
    Its been a slow couple of years for Niagara Falls. Not to many people committing suicide, although the ones that survive usually say it was a stunt. This year they've pulled a few people from the brink. They seem to change their mind once they get to the edge. The American side of the rapids leading up to the falls is shallow so sometimes people stand up once they hit a rock. Although they usually can't walk out.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

  10. #10
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Every effort should be made to save the person. I don't want to live in the society where people would rather have a person jump than be delayed in their drive home.

    If it happens once every five years, it will probably have a huge effect on traffic, like the Bay Bridge guy. If it happens more than once a year, emergency folk should find a way to address the situation and minimize the delay (e.g. take only one lane and do as much as possible to keep traffic moving.

  11. #11

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    Wulf's opinion was the majority on the call-in show. Gene Burns 810 KGO Radio is usually pretty thoughtful.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Seems like there would be a better way of doing it than calling out the entire emergency brigade. Not only does it seem kind of inefficient, but to have helicopters circling, boats, all manner of emergency vehicles with lights flashing and people yelling over megaphones (I'm imagining here from the description) must have been terrifying to the guy. We had a similar situation several years ago, and it seemed that the overwhelming official presence hurt the situation before it helped it. If there were a way of handling the situation with fewer people, it might make the situation calm down faster, as well as being more compassionate. There's nothing soothing about a helicopter rattling overhead.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    Yeah, I remember hearing that someplace too. I imagine places like Paris probably see their fair share of jumpers from the Eiffel Tower; Niagra Falls is in my mind is another obvious choice for jumpers in that region.... lots of other famous landmarks to jump off in lots of cities. Who I really feel sorry for, though, are the folks that commit suicide in Plano, Kenosha, Dover, Peoria and Biloxi. It's one thing to jump off a famous landmark but jumping off, say, the tallest grain elevator in town just lacks..... well, panache.
    we in the Midwest don't understand this concept of vertical-ness. IF someone jumps to commit suicide here, It's probably a long leap across the flatness of an expressway, not down from a building har har.

    Seriously, there doesn't seem to be a humane or episode free way to resolve these instances. Traffic will get backed up.. it's not the usual routine to see someone on a bridge. A person that commits or threatens suicide in a grandiose manner is either mental or just trying to draw attention to themselves.... Like that UW-Madison student.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Spend the time and personnel to try to save the guy. If a call goes out that requires reallocation of resources, then that is a decision for the watch commander must make. A mentally distraught or disturbed person is not in the same league as a knucklehead who gets lost in the forest or leaves his campfire burning and burns down the forest. The former is not responsible and should not be finacially responsible. The latter is responsible for his/her actions and should be financially held accountable.

    Traffic is snarled and people are inconveniences, but that is a small price. The scale is tipped way toward saving life.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Last summer DC had "tractor man" the old guy on a bit of farm equipment out on the mall, in a fish pond. Tied up traffic something horrible all over the metro area for almost 48 hours. The man had no bombs though he said he had a bit of TNT. If a nut on a tractor can do that to DC god help us if a guy with a real bomb decides to get busy.

    grrrrrr, people in DC were quite ready to get rid of the old goat on the tractor post haste.
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    It's one thing to jump off a famous landmark but jumping off, say, the tallest grain elevator in town just lacks..... well, panache.
    Anybody see the news item last week about the 80yr old fellow diagnosed with a tumor? He rented a biplane and jumped out as the pilot frantically tried to hold him in. His son was quoted as saying his dad wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.

    WTF? Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane from 400 feet because you are old and dying qualifies as a "blaze of glory"? I think NOT.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  17. #17
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I'd be curious to hear what supporters of Right to Life have to say on the matter. This really seems to be a convoluted situation - on the one hand, the principle of 'preserve life at all costs' is a rather conservative sentiment. On the other hand, the idea of expending considerable public energy, time and funds into 'helping' people who may not even want help seems dearer to liberal hearts. Hmmmm.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  18. #18
    I don't think that you need helicopters and all of that crap. It is overkill. What do you need a helicopter for unless you are the local news station looking for some killer footage of the guy jumping? I think that one coast guard boat, one ambulance, and one or two cop cars is plenty. You don't need 40 people to persuade a juy to not jump. At some point however, I would just leave the guy up there and open up the traffic and have the law enforcement people use up like one lane or something. 13 hours is far too long. What would have happend if emergency personnel needed to cross the bridge during this time but it was tied up with traffic? What about people who had places that they really had to be? Maybe someone was on their way to a wedding, a funeral, a job interview, to pick up the kids from daycare, an airport to stop a loved one from moving to Eurpoe (ok that only happens in movies, but you get the picture).

    Oh, and the guy should reimburse the City, County, and whoever else for every single dime spent on the rescue. Then he'll think twice next time and either jump right away or seek help.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

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  19. #19
    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
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    $

    What price a human life?
    Any more its about three to five per round of depleted uranium; or 30 to 50 per pound of C-4.
    WALSTIB

  20. #20
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    OK this is going to sound F’d up, but I say that they should have left the bridge open, toed his car, had someone walk out on the bridge, and it there on the edge with him (strapped in of course) and try to talk him out of it. Have one boat with a few divers in the water incase he does jump. I think that as a society some people will do something because the world is watching, or because they made something big happen. I think that we spend too many resources on these problems. I agree what someone should have offered him help (they guy who would walk out) but what effect will it have on the cars? Maybe put a tarp or something up so that people driving by could not him.

    I have to cross the Mackinac Bridge every time I go back to my parents house. It is a 5 mile suspension bridge, and from what I know of, only 4 people in my lifetime have gone over the side. One was blown over while driving a Ugo, the most recent, they never found the body. Every time, it has been less than a minute, or no one has seen it happen. I think that if someone is going to jump, they are going to do it quick, because the more they think about it, the more they wait and think about other things that are good in their lives.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Someone doing something so publically is a cry for help. The reason for threatening to jump or actually jumping off a famous bridge, etc, is to make external and visible their internal emotional drama. Society routinely puts people in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position: if you can cope, you aren't worthy of any help; if you are over the edge, then you finally get some kind of help. I have been in more than one situation where the fact that I managed to keep my cool and keep trying to effectively address the situation...meant that no one took me very seriously. It is enough to PUSH you over the edge. If we had more ... stuff .... structured to take a problem seriously before it gets to the mega-crisis stage, you wouldn't see nearly so much of this.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    If it was someone in my family going thru a crisis, yeah, I would want the whole world turned out to try to save him/her. Because their perspective might change once they were down.

    But my practical side says: 13 hours, with helicopters? Too much. I can't imagine that suicidal people can cope with that level of activity around them, as they try to come to terms with what they're thinking of doing.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Sorry, you don't have a right to be an ass to your fellow humans.

    On Topic: Legalize suicide and send his estate the bill for the body clean up. If he is a threat to cars, bicyclists, fishing boats, or pedestrians passing below stop traffic, tell him to surrender, if he doesn't surrender in five minutes, fire a warning shot, if another five passes and no surrender; snipe his ass. Put his head on a pike as a warning to others. If he survives the bullet and the drop to sea level: Gitmo. Society is too complex to coddle the discontented. There's your compassionate conservatism.

    Off-topic:

    Off Topic
    Quote Originally posted by Tom R
    What price a human life?
    Any more it’s about three to five per round of depleted uranium; or 30 to 50 per pound of C-4.

    Wrong. Sorry, but wrong. The US shoots at least 1000-200 5.56 or 7.62 mm rounds per human killed (Viet Nam was even higher). C4 is a demolition explosive and is rarely used in direct combat against people (Claymores are the exception). There we like to use TNT, RDX, PETN and other explosives far more because they are castable explosives that work better in artillery rounds. C4 is far too expensive for that, and it has the wrong kind of brisance. DU rounds are normally tank killer rounds and maybe 50-100 are sprayed for each tank killed by an A-10 and there are only 4 guys in a tank, 3 if it is a T-72 or better. However the M-1A2 is a beast and there are maybe 3 guys killed per 1.2 APFSDS-T fired. They are lethal.

    M1A2 Main Battle Tank sports the Rheinmetal 120mm Smoothbore Cannon and is the most powerful tank weapon in existence

    So you have to ask yourself, do you feel lucky, well do you Tom R?


  24. #24
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Spiderman comes to mind as a solution. But since there are no web slingers around, maybe someday research into non-lethal weapons will advance to the point that jumpers can be snipered with adhesive goo that will prevent them from being able to jump. Of course if it got in the person's airways it's be all over for them.

    Though the jumpers don't always have a history of mental illness, some of this is the continuing payout of the movement in the 80s to save money by closing mental hospitals and putting the patients on the street with a bottle of pills and a good luck wish. That's certainly a decision that has cost several orders of magnitude greater than the savings.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
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    So you have to ask yourself, do you feel lucky, well do you Tom R?

    [/ot][/QUOTE]

    OK, I exposed my ignorance about ordnance etc. After all, I was in the Signal Corps and we didn't like things that blew up. My point was to show some irony in the conversation. The debate as to how much to spend to save a live versus the other side of the ledger; how much is spent to take one. Luck is akin to superstition. I don't believe in either.
    WALSTIB

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